Saturday, March 12, 2011

photographic art history weekend continues with Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype

Daguerrotype Portrait of Louis Daguerre circa 1850

My Masters of Photography in Art History series continues with the creator of the daguerreotype, French photographer Louis Daguerre. Daguerre isn't considered the inventor of photography as there were earlier attempts at making camera obscura during the Rennaissance and Niepce's metal-plate photographs from the 1820s. However, Daguerre was the first to produce an actual print of a living person in 1838.

Boulevard du Temple 1838, daguerrotype by Louis Daguerre

If you look at the above Paris street scene, you will see the shape of a man getting his shoes shined in the lower left-hand corner. Because the method of early photographic processes wasn't very light-sensitive, it involved a long time of exposure and this is why people are usually seated stiffly and not moving. In the above street scene which took 10 minutes to expose, the moving vehicles on the street can't be seen. The man getting his shoes shined must have stayed still in the same place for long enough to get his image exposed though.

Robert Cornelius Self-Portrait daguerrotype 1839 (the first portrait of a human)

On January 7, 1839 Daguerre announced that he had invented a process using silver on a copper plate called the daguerrotype. The French government bought the patent and immediately made it public domain. The daguerrotype became the Polaroid of it's day and responded to the demand for portraiture emerging from the middle classes during the Industrial Revolution. No longer would one have to commission an expensive painted portrait on canvas. This demand for photography led to further development and interest in photography.

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